Pathology refers to the study and understanding of diseases and their impact on the body. A person working in this field is a medical professional, known as a pathologist, who diagnoses, treats and prevents a range of diseases.
The term pathology comes from ancient Greek and translates to the study of suffering. Physicians and scientists working in pathology are experts in disease and use their expertise to support all aspects of health care.
There are different paths to becoming a pathologist, but they involve years of study and training. Pathologists can practice in any area of pathology, but they will usually specialize in a certain area or discipline within that subject, such as neuropathology, hematopathology, or dermatopathology.
In this article, we will discuss what pathologists do, how to become one, and the types of specialties that exist.
Pathology is a general term to describe the study of diseases and injuries that can occur in the human body. By obtaining samples of cells, fluids, and tissues from the body and then analyzing them, an expert can identify any distinct abnormalities or changes. This allows them to better understand the cause of the problem, how it progresses, and how the condition affects typical body functions and processes.
While most pathologists receive training in both the clinical and anatomical area of pathology, some receive additional training, giving them expertise in a certain subspecialty of their choice.
The path to pathology will usually be
A person can choose to specialize in one of these disciplines or do a longer residency and practice both. The final step to becoming a pathologist is to pass a board certification exam.
The path to becoming a pathologist can follow a similar trajectory as follows:
- A person will first go to college and receive an undergraduate education in a medical related subject. They may already be considering the subspecialties that interest them, as this can help them choose an appropriate medical school.
- Next, a person will take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Most students take it during their freshman year so they can get their results by the time they apply to medical school. Most medical schools share their minimum MCAT requirement along with the average MCAT scores of incoming students to inform prospective students of ideal scores.
- After medical school, a person must complete a residency in pathology, which usually lasts 4 years. This is when prospective pathologists go on hospital rotations to learn different skill sets such as microbiology, immunology, etc. Pathologists who choose a subspecialty will complete an additional year or two of postgraduate training in that specific area.
- Future pathologists must then obtain a
Doctor of Medicine licenseafter completing an MD and residency.
- All pathologists must then receive certification. In the United States, the American Board of Pathology certifies eligible physicians. To obtain it, a person must hold a medical degree from an accredited school, complete a pathology residency, have a medical license, and pass a certification test. A person can also become a member of the College of American Pathologists or the American Society for Clinical Pathology.
- Finally, a pathologist may want to have a subspecialty. Although optional, anyone interested in having a subspecialty must complete a fellowship where they receive additional training in their area of interest. A person will complete this scholarship in a hospital, and it usually lasts around 2 years.
Some pathologists have a subspecialty in a certain discipline of pathology. This usually requires additional training and knowledge assessment. Although training standards and organizations may differ from country to country, they largely cover similar tasks. Some subspecialties and their corresponding responsibilities include:
Blood bank or transfusion
A pathologist specializing in this field is responsible for the monitoring, processing and compatibility of blood products. This involves ensuring that sufficient blood is available and overseeing safety, testing and preparations for blood and blood components.
Clinical pathologists, sometimes known as chemical pathologists, are experts in biochemistry and how changes in body pathways relate to diagnosis and disease progression. These people monitor substances in bodily fluids, such as blood and urine, to assess changes in an individual’s body chemistry.
A clinical informatics pathologist aims to improve patient and societal health outcomes, patient care, and doctor-patient relationships. They do this by evaluating data, health trends and communication systems and collaborating with other health professionals. These people use the information they collect to try to improve and refine medical processes that will lead to better patient outcomes.
Cytopathologists analyze cell samples from body fluids to look for cellular abnormalities and use this information to study and diagnose conditions. They use techniques that allow them to observe cells, such as staining methods or using a microscope.
Dermatopathologists specialize in interpreting skin biopsies to help diagnose a variety of skin conditions. This may involve studying a sample of skin under a microscope to assess tissue structure, detect any disease-causing agents, and assess for abnormalities.
A medical examiner will study an individual’s tissue after a sudden, unexpected or violent death. They will sometimes work as a medical examiner or coroner performing autopsies for law enforcement. It is their responsibility to help determine the cause, manner and mechanism of death.
A hematology pathologist studies conditions specific to blood cells, blood clotting pathways, bone marrow, and lymph nodes. These people use blood samples to diagnose conditions such as anemia, leukemia, lymphomas, etc.
A medical microbiologist studies infectious organisms and antibiotic sensitivities. They support and oversee the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of conditions resulting from microorganisms.
Molecular genetic pathology
A molecular genetic pathologist studies genetic markers. These people help in the monitoring, diagnosis and prognosis of diseases related to genetic disorders, infectious diseases and human development. They also help determine the risk of genetic diseases.
Neuropathologists are people who study conditions that affect the nervous system. They will frequently act as consultants to neurologists and neurosurgeons and analyze post-mortem specimens to study dementia, assess trauma, and assess genetic conditions.
A pathologist specializing in pediatric pathology studies diseases that occur in children up to 18 years of age. These individuals may also specialize in perinatal pathology, which involves the study of disorders of the placenta, problems affecting development, and causes of pregnancy loss.
Pathologists are medical professionals who help study the cause and progression of disease or injury. They are usually experts in a certain subspecialty and frequently assist other physicians in the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of conditions. Becoming a pathologist involves many years of education and training with experts.